Assume you are representing a DUI client with a chemical testing suggesting that the client had high bodily alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the driving. Assume further that the client has two or three prior DUI convictions, all of which are very old. In speaking with the client it appears that he may have an untreated alcohol problem. Under this scenario, is winning the DUI case good or bad for the client’s long-term sobriety? The answer is that winning the DUI case has the potential to be either good or bad for the client’s recovery.
The idea that winning a DUI case can actually help the client’s long term prospects is a foreign concept to many people in the criminal justice system. Certainly it is a foreign concept to many judges.
Any DUI lawyer who has practiced for any length of time knows that there is a palpable tension between the defense bar and the bench. This tension is particularly acute for those defense lawyers that handle DUI cases, and this is in part because the bench often views DUI lawyers as standing in the way of their client’s recovery.
Moreover, many on the bench think that any attempt to actually win the case for the client has the effect of enabling their client’s addiction. They think that winning the DUI allows the client to stay in denial. Too often they are right.
But, it is also quite possible that they are also wrong. It is the opinion of this writer that the viewpoint that DUI lawyers are “enablers” is not necessarily a well thought out opinion. This is because most individuals that are facing a DUI charge, especially multiple DUI offenders, are facing these criminal charges because many aspects of their lives had become unmanageable. The DUI is simply a manifestation of a larger life issue, of which the alcohol addiction is sometimes only a small part.
This statement is really just another way of looking at step one. “We admitted that we were powerless – that our lives had become unmanageable.” According to “the unmanageable life” web site:
Yet I think most AAs and members of other fellowships would concede that many or most of the following tangles had become part of our lives.
What about the legal problems? The bills that were not being paid, with the dun-notices that were piling up. The traffic tickets that really didn’t need to be dealt with. The diminishing number of business and customers leading to debt and thoughts of bankruptcy. The very real considerations of divorce, loss of child custody, and restraining orders. The pile-up of tax returns, and the delays in payment of taxes, followed by IRS activity. Then the real criminal stuff. Drunk driving. Driving without insurance. Driving without a license. Driving without proper registration. Driving with open containers. Driving under the influence. Possession. Surely they weren’t just the result of drinking too much, but the events piled up.
And why is the alcoholic’s life unmanageable? Of course a big part of the answer is the alcohol, but once the alcohol is removed from the equation does the alcoholic’s life suddenly become manageable? The hope is that eventually the answer is “yes” but there is little doubt that lingering legal problems makes what may be an already tenuous sobriety all the more challenging to sustain.
This is because the sanctions for a DUI conviction are so draconian. They include for example a possible license revocation making travel to treatment very difficult. There are also significant financial obligations that go along with conviction, and these obligations are piled on top of what is typically financial disarray. A DUI conviction may also cause the loss of income, employment status or even loss of a job.
If all of this is true, and I am confident that it is, then won’t making the DUI go away make the likelihood for lasting sobriety all the more certain? Yes, but only if the client is already committed to sobriety before the acquittal or dismissal. And without the DUI lawyer’s encouragement this is a big “if.”
On the other hand, if the acquittal or dismissal of the DUI charge happens prior to a client’s commitment to sobriety then I agree with the original premise, winning a DUI case may very well enable the client’s addiction and even encourage him or her to keep drinking.
Understanding all of this it should now be clear why it is so important to encourage a client in need of sobriety to seek treatment as early as possible. If the client is committed to sobriety before their DUI case is dismissed, then the dismissal will actually help the recovery process rather than hinder it.
Thus, as with most things in life, timing is everything and referring the client to treatment early in the court process has the maximum benefit. Because DUI lawyer stand in the position of “first responder” and can thereby have a maximum influence on the client’s recovery process, there is little doubt that DUI lawyers can be a big part of the solution rather than a big part of the problem.